…so you don’t have to.
a fellow Nomad
I’m not going to argue that A&D is a great work by any stretch of the imagination. It’s got plenty of clunky dialogue, bad guys who enthusiastically wear the words “BAD GUY” on their foreheads, and, as John pointed out, the story is dangerously close to that breakthrough Langdon book.(For example, in both books Langdon is introduced waking to an urgent phone call that begins the chase. In both, the original corpse is the father of the female lead, and in both we find out it’s not really her biological father, just the man who assumes that parental role. In both books we keep cutting to an absurdly devout killer who has peculiar methods of sexual gratification. (There are more, but that’s enough for now.))
However, I will argue that A&D is some pretty damned good entertainment, and (here’s where I’ll have to relinquish my Contemporary Nomad secret decoder ring) the writing is actually decent, overall. It doesn’t have the agonizing hackneyed superlatives of DVC (or at least far fewer), and much less of that cheap hiding-information-to-surprise-you-later trick, which drove me crazy in DVC.
I’m not sure what happened between these two books. Looking at Wikipedia, I learn that the books preceding DVC never had more than a 10,000 hardback printing. My own first novel was 13,000 (and of course ended up remaindered, and the following ones plummeted in number).
My vague theory is that, after A&D, faced with another small print run after working so long and hard on his admittedly extensive research* and working to get the language into good shape, Brown got frustrated and turned to hackneyed phrases and adverbs in order to excite the lowest common denominator in DVC, which apparently worked. Or maybe it wasn’t a self-conscious ploy at all, and he just got tired of editing out the bad stuff.
But there’s a similarity between the two books that, as a writer, I find illuminating. My question’s always been: Why is his style is so accessible to the masses? Some things are obvious, like the hackneyed bits, but I noticed one quality that may be as important as everything else: Brown never gives us a chance—or never forces us—to fill in any blanks.
Yes, he gives us puzzles to work on and all that, but we’re never forced to fill in the mental, or emotional, life of Langdon or anyone else. We’re walked through every turn and conflict in Langdon’s head. No character ever does something that requires the reader to wonder about a character’s emotional state, or puzzle over the whys.
I notice this quality because I don’t work this way at all. My preference as a reader is for characters who act, and from those actions I’m forced to find the emotional glue that ties the actions together. What I want is for the writer to have enough faith in me to let me make the connections myself. Not only does it give me the illusion of wisdom, but I think it forces me to gather and utilize my own understanding of human nature.
That might sound a little high-fallutin’ but it’s not. Narrative art can provoke us to ask ourselves questions that only we can answer. I don’t mean good authors teach us anything. They put us in a position to teach ourselves. They help us stretch ourselves a little bit. And you don’t have to be Flaubert to pull it off.
Brown doesn’t do this, and we’ve seen the career result. Perhaps he’s got it right in a way I’ve got it wrong.
Has anyone else read Angels & Demons? I’m not quite finished with it yet, but will be soon. One other good lesson I learned was that, even with a book chock full of twists 500 pages is far more than enough, which helps reinforces the idea that my publishers were right all along.
Pop in and tell me if I’ve really been shooting too much smack, or if it really is a decent book. And please, help me get my decoder ring back.
*And yes, in A&D the research often reads like encyclopedia or guidebook excerpts, but unlike in DVC these passages are mercifully in Langdon’s head, not being spoken aloud. Thus the dialogue is not so bad.